The Watercooler: “We need employer action not just ‘awareness’”

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Stanford University academics wrote this plea claiming that awareness days do little good six years ago - yet in the years since, these days have only grown in number and variety. Surely you didn’t miss last week’s Time To Talk mental health awareness day, and you’re making the most of February as Boost Your Self Esteem Month?

HR departments often use these events as the basis of their annual ‘wellbeing calendar’ – and they can be a useful framework to make employees aware of the wellbeing offerings their companies provide. But used poorly, these days only invite a backlash. After all, what use is awareness of an issue if there’s no action taken to address it?

“The worst case scenario is announcing something like Time To Talk [to be more open about mental health] and then not having the resources to back it up, such as a counselling service,” says Steve Iley, chief medical officer at Jaguar Land Rover. “There’s no point urging people to ‘get support’ if in fact you haven’t got any to offer. ‘That will destroy your well-being brand and reduce employee engagement,” he warns.

Iley takes a targeted approach, creating bespoke wellbeing programmes for different departments – after all, the pressures of those on the factory floor may be very different to those faced by staff in the marketing department or the crash test team.

Consultancy PIB Employee Benefits does the same, helping clients target staff most at risk.

“We had a client who’d seen a number of young male suicides across different sites in their business,” explains managing director David Skinner. “So we worked with them on a suicide awareness campaign, but it wasn’t just about making them aware – they were tragically already far too aware. We arranged access to support for those in crisis as well as delivering training to teams and line managers on how to spot someone who is feeling suicidal.”

The upshot? To move from ‘awareness’ to improvement, a campaign must both make a clear call to action, and provide the resources for change.

Both Iley and Skinner will be speaking at The Watercooler - the leading workplace wellness conference and exhibition in the UK - this year on April 25 and 26.

Between now and then, this column will examine the realities of corporate wellbeing culture, separating out the twee trends from the tried-and-tested techniques; the ‘employee appreciation’ donuts from the tangible benefits that make life – in and out of the office – better. From fertility support and parental leave to discussing whether you can ever really bring your whole self to work… see you by ‘The Watercooler’ soon.

For more discussions like this, join us at The Watercooler workplace wellness conference and exhibition on April 25 and 26 at Excel London

The Watercooler (ES)
The Watercooler (ES)